February 28, 2008

Jaywalking: So What?

I have a confession to make. The "Jaywalking" segment on NBC's The Tonight Show used to really worry me. Watching and listening to the ignorance demonstrated by the people in those segments used to actually create physical pain in me and a very real fear about the future of America.

But now I'm not so concerned.

Unapologetic Ignorance
For those of you who might not be familiar with Jaywalking, the premise is simple: Jay Leno interviews random people on the street, asking them simple questions like "can you name three American presidents?" Invariably, he finds clueless people who, rather than admitting that they can't name three American presidents, announce with total sincerity "Martin Sheen, Ben Franklin and Winston Churchill."

What horrified me about Jaywalking was not that the people seemed ignorant, but that they didn't even have enough sense to be ashamed or embarrassed by that fact.

A Need To Know Basis
I've lightened up since then, beginning with asking a very important question: "So what?"

So what if you don't know who any of America's presidents were? So what if you don't know what countries border America? So what if you can't point to America on the globe?

Frankly, in the scope of all those things that truly matter, those things don't matter.

In life, there are things you need to know, and there are things you don't need to know. I was no longer annoyed by what I once saw as unapologetic ignorance, because what shame is there in not knowing something you don't need to know?

The Circle Of Influence
What, then, qualifies as something you need to know? The answer is simple. By focusing on those things that are within your circle of influence, you discover those things that you absolutely, positively must know (and must know well)! Anything else falls into the category of good to know, nice to know, and may-never-need-too-know.

I was introduced to the circle of influence by Stephen Covey's book, "The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People." The idea is that there are things you can influence and there are things that you either can't influence or have very little power to influence. As much as we may want world peace, most of us have very little power to influence that. Peace within our own homes, however, is very much within our circle of influence.

In the same sense, knowing a lot about something you will never experience or use has very little practical value. There is nothing wrong with knowing a little or even a lot about things outside of your circle of influence, but if it comes at the cost of knowledge about things you should be focusing much more attention to, then it becomes a problem.

Truly Shameless Ignorance
As you can see now, my frustration with the ignorance of people featured on Jaywalking was misplaced.

Truly shameless ignorance is to be ignorant of those things that do matter. The things within your circle of influence certainly matter the most, for they belong to that part of your world that suffers the most noticeably as a direct result of your action or inaction.

If I were to conduct an experiment Jaywalking-style, it might go something like this:

(I pull aside some random guy on the street)
Babblermouth: Excuse me, can I ask you a few questions? It'll be painless, just a little social experiment...
Guy: (Glances at his watch) Sure, but I only have about five minutes.
Babblermouth: Great, I'll keep it fast. The first question is, do you have any children?
Guy: Yes, a boy and a girl.
Babblermouth: Ok, thanks. Are they in school?
Guy: Yes, our oldest is in 3rd grade, and youngest just started kindergarten this year.
Babblermouth: And what are their favorite subjects in school?
Guy: (Winces, then chuckles uncomfortably) I, uh...I guess I don't know.
Babblermouth: That's ok. Are you married?
Guy: I sure am, for fifteen years now.
Babblermouth: Congratulations. Where does your wife want to go for your next vacation?
Guy: Oh, man. (Tries hard to think before finally shrugging his shoulders) I don't know.
Babblermouth: No problem, one last question. What are the major goals you're trying to accomplish in the next 5 years?
Guy: (After a long, uncomfortable silence) I'm sorry, I really need to get going or I'll be late for work.
Babblermouth: Well, thanks for your time...somehow, this wasn't as funny as when Jay does it!

I don't know about you, but I find something terribly sad about this kind of ignorance.

Are you shamelessly ignorant when it comes to your circle of influence? Have you neglected it for too long, or taken it for granted? If so, take a moment right now to increase your knowledge where it really matters. Talk to the ones you love, and be amazed at how much there is to learn about them. It will be the best thing you've ever done for yourself -- and for the people in your circle.

Also At Babblermouth:
Fun With Truisms
7 Habits Of Highly Effective People...In Haiku
Financial Freedom Series 1-Cause and Effect

No comments:

Post a Comment

Do you agree? Disagree? Be sure to tell me why before you go.